My throat wanted to close. “You can’t keep me here unless I consent,” I managed to say. I knew that much, at least. I was a lawyer’s daughter and I was seventeen years old. They couldn’t keep me here unless I wanted to be kept. Unless—
“You were screaming and hysterical and you slipped. When one of our nurses tried to help you up, you punched her.”
“It became an emergency situation, so under the Baker Act, your parents were able to consent for you.”
I whispered so I wouldn’t scream. “What are you saying?”
“I’m sorry, but you’ve been involuntarily committed.”
WE HOPE THAT YOU’LL ALLOW A DOCTOR TO DO a physical examination,” she said kindly. “And that you’ll consent to our treatment plan.”
“What if I don’t?” I asked.
“Well, your parents still have time to file the appropriate papers with the court while you’re here—but it would be really wonderful for you, and for them, if you cooperated with us. We’re here to help you.”
I couldn’t quite remember ever feeling so lost.
“Mara,” Dr. West said, drawing my eyes to hers, “do you understand what this means?”
It means that Jude is alive and no one believes it but me.
It means that there is something wrong with me, but it isn’t what they think.
It means that I’m alone.
But then my racing thoughts trailed an image in their wake. A memory.
The beige walls of the psychiatric unit evaporated and became glass. I saw myself in the passenger seat of a car—Noah’s car—and saw my cheeks stained with tears. Noah was next to me, his hair messy and perfect and his eyes defiant as they held mine.
“There is something seriously wrong with me, and there’s nothing anyone can do to fix it,” I said to him then.
“Let me try,” he said back.
That was before he knew just how deeply screwed up I was, but even when the last piece of my armor cracked on marble courthouse steps, revealing the ugliness beneath it, Noah wasn’t the one who left.
Because I killed four people—five, if my dad’s client never woke up—with nothing more than a thought. And the number could have been higher—would have been higher, if Noah hadn’t saved my father’s life. I never meant to hurt the people I loved, but Rachel was still dead and my father was still shot. Less than forty-eight hours ago, I thought the best way to keep them safe was to keep myself away.
But things were different, now. Jude made them different.
No one knew the truth about me. No one but Noah. Which meant he was the only one who could possibly fix this. I had to talk to him.
I forced myself to focus on Dr. West.
“Will you let us help you?”
Help me? I wanted to ask. By giving me more drugs when I’m not sick, not with anything worse than PTSD? I’m not psychotic, I wanted to say.
But I didn’t appear to have much of a choice, so I forced myself to say yes. “But I want to talk to my mother first,” I added.
“I’ll give her a call after your physical—okay?”
It wasn’t. Not at all. But I nodded and Dr. West grinned, deepening the folds in her face, looking for all the world like a warm, kindly grandmother. Maybe she was.
When she left, it was all I could do not to fall apart; but I didn’t have time. She was immediately replaced by a penlight-wielding doctor who asked me questions about my appetite and other wildly mundane details, which I answered calmly with a careful tongue. And then he left, and I was offered some food, and one of the staff—a counselor? A nurse?—showed me the unit. It was quieter than I imagined a psych ward would be, and with fewer obvious psychos. A couple of kids were quietly reading. One watched TV. Another talked with a friend. They looked up at me when I passed by, but otherwise, I went unacknowledged.
When I was eventually led back to the bedroom, I was shocked to find my mother in it.
Anyone else wouldn’t have noticed what a mess she was. Her clothes were unwrinkled. Her skin was still flawless. Not a single hair was out of place. But hopelessness trampled her posture and fear dulled her eyes. She was holding it together, but just barely.
She was holding it together for me.
I wanted to hug her and shake her at the same time. But I just stood there, cemented to the floor.
She rushed up to hug me. I let her, but my arms were chained to my sides and I couldn’t hug her back.
She pulled back and smoothed the hair from my face. Studied my eyes. “I am so sorry, Mara.”
“Really.” My voice was flat.
I couldn’t have hurt her more if I had smacked her. “How could you say that?” she asked.
“Because I woke up in a psychiatric unit today.” The words were bitter in my mouth.
She backed up and sat on the bed, which had been freshly made since I was last in it. She shook her head, and her lacquer-black hair swung with the movement. “When you left the hospital yesterday, I thought you were tired and going home. So when the police called?” Her voice cracked, and she held her hand up to her throat. “Your father was shot, and then to pick up the phone and hear the police say, ‘Mrs. Dyer, we’re calling about your daughter?’” A tear fell from one of her eyes and she quickly wiped it away. “I thought you’d been in a car accident. I thought you were dead.”
My mother wrapped her arms around her waist and hunched forward. “I was so terrified I dropped the phone. Daniel picked it up. He explained what was happening—that you were at the police station, hysterical. He stayed with your father and I rushed there to get you but you were wild, Mara,” she said, and looked at me. “Wild. I never thought . . .” Her voice trailed off and she seemed to be staring right through me. “You were screaming that Jude is alive.”
I did something brave, then. Or stupid. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
I decided to trust her. I looked my mother in the eye and said, without any trace of doubt in my expression or voice, “He is.”
“How would that be possible, Mara?” My mother’s voice was toneless.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, because I didn’t have a clue. “But I saw him.” I sat down next to her on the bed, but not close.
My mom pushed her hair away from her face. “Could it have been a hallucination?” She avoided my eyes. “Like the other times? Like the earrings?”